In summing up General Synod’s debate and vote on same-sex marriage last July, Primate Fred Hiltz concluded:
“We have been deeply divided over the solemnizing of same-sex marriage for a very long time. That has not changed.”
So what now?
It would be easy to shrug and say that in time, things will blow over and all shall be well. But while the church will survive this challenge, just as it has overcome others in the past, it will not entirely be without costs.
On the flip side, it would be just as easy to catastrophize the situation and think that the sky is falling. It is not.
The church is, however, facing some tough struggles in the next three years leading up to 2019, when the motion to change the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages will be brought again to General Synod for final consideration.
In the aftermath of the same-sex marriage vote, some things stood out:
- Relationships will need to be rebuilt- among bishops, among dioceses and among members. Deep wounds were inflicted all around, by the words and actions of some. But, as others have noted, as embarrassing and frustrating as it may have been for some, the recount that overturned the rejection of same-sex marriage may have been a saving grace. Both sides got to walk a mile in the other’s shoes, and the hope is that this will lead to reconciliation. U.S. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s words about reconciliation are worth reflecting upon.”Reconciliation is about the hard work of working through our differences, maybe acknowledging them and not changing them, necessarily,” he says.”[It is about] working through our differences honestly and with integrity, and sometimes repenting of where our differences or my differences or yours have actually hurt relationships and not helped the human family.” (See ‘Jesus does not allow us the option of self-righteousness.’)
- The House of Bishops will have to find a way out of this morass: There are bishops who have “publicly dissented” from the results of the same-sex marriage vote, and there are others who have said they will now allow clergy to solemnize same-sex weddings in their dioceses ahead of 2019. Canadian Anglicans will be looking closely at how bishops will handle their tensions and overcome mistrust.
- Many in the church have expressed a desire to remain united and walk together regardless of differences. How will this desire be concretely expressed on the level of parishes and dioceses?
- There is a growing sentiment that the church will have to seriously consider the question of whether the legislative process is the only way to handle complex issues or whether there are other models that are equally transparent, but less polarizing.
- Education around church polity is in order. The leadership needs to address lingering questions from the average Anglican in the pew about how decisions are made and where authority lies on different matters affecting the church. For instance, there needs to be greater clarity about why the church had to go through the legislative wringer (and will have to, again, in 2019) if, as the General Synod chancellor told synod, the marriage canon doesn’t really prohibit same-sex marriage.
- There must be a rigorous process to ensure that votes are accurately counted and recorded.
What is also worth noting is this: As painful and disappointing as it may have been to witness-on the plenary floor or via Live Stream-the bruising exchanges and the sense of exclusion felt by some, Canadian Anglicans ought to remain proud at the continuing transparency of their church. An open meeting allowed the public to see a church that is not afraid of dissent, welcomes a diversity of opinions and makes room for everyone at the table.
The next three years will see periods of struggle for the church, yes. But struggling is a good thing. It is hard and it can get really messy, but it also means that the church is alive, trying to be better. It has been said time and again that struggle, faced positively and honestly, can lead to strength.